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Taking the Pressure Out of Sermon Prep

A longer preparation window reduces anxiety, fosters creativity, and makes us more attentive to the Holy Spirit.

Taking the Pressure Out of Sermon Prep

For as long as I can remember, I've had this recurring nightmare. I'm back at school, and facing an exam for which I am completely unprepared. (It is usually in Math or French.) Since I've become a pastor, I've had another similar nightmare. I'm in the church sanctuary, the offering is being taken, and I am about to get up and preach in a couple of minutes—but I have no idea what to say. I begin to frantically scratch out an outline on some scrap paper. I get up, move to the pulpit, glance down at my notes. Then to my horror, all I can see are these completely indecipherable symbols: #!%?3^R*^&.

We pastors feel great pressure to come up with something creative, coherent, and hopefully inspiring at least once a week. My brother worked as a national radio host for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). When he was still a reporter, he was only one of a couple of people employed by the CBC who was permitted to offer his personal opinion on news events in ...

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Displaying 1–17 of 17 comments

Patrick Lim

November 17, 2017  9:46am

Thank you.

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Tammy Shane

November 17, 2015  4:04pm

Thanks. Needed this.

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Pamela Duncan

November 03, 2015  6:23am

Awesome advice!!! Thank you so very much.

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Jacob Buurma

November 02, 2015  8:49am

Great article! It shows how sermon writing (and other forms of creative work) follow a different trajectory than other forms of labor. You can complete a painting project in a day and be done. But cramming sermon prep into a single day short-circuits the creative process and creates needless pressure. The 10-day concept is fantastic!

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Karli Baldwin

November 01, 2015  10:48pm

Thank you for your faithful leadership to leaders!

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DC

October 31, 2015  2:17pm

Thank you Ken. Very insightful as always.

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Craig Pagens

October 30, 2015  12:14pm

Thanks Ken, this is very helpful advice!

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Ken Shigematsu

October 29, 2015  7:17pm

Hi Josh, great question. When unexpected events take up a huge chunk of time, I feel you need to be gentle with yourself and not feel the pressure to conform to a particular routine. As the monks would say a rhythm of life is not something that you serve, but something that serves you. Having said that if you can start a SMALL part of your prep say 7 or 10 in advance it gives you time to percolate on the text and pray over it.

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DM

October 29, 2015  5:33pm

So helpful! Thanks for the tips here Ken!

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David Dwight

October 28, 2015  4:41pm

Thanks Ken. Longer runway definitely helps. Allowing myself the freedom to develop a style that works well for me has helped me a lot. There are lots of voices that say "how" you should do this - but we're each wired differently, process differently, think differently. Allowing myself the freedom to accept this about myself has been a liberating factor. I keep several legal pads going and they are staggered chronologically from their "go date." I start a pad several weeks in advance with general thoughts which get my mind and heart around it - then fill it further as I get closer. Each pad (sermon) follows a similar progression. This removes the "crunch" significantly. Thanks for sharing your learnings with us.

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Josh Moody

October 28, 2015  4:09pm

More great insights, Ken. Based on past conversations with you, I have tried to implement this "longer runway" for my preaching prep here on Long Island. During the seasons when I have been in this flow, I have reaped the benefits that you describe. However, I occasionally (such as the last few weeks) find myself thrown off the routine by some unexpected event that takes up a huge chunk of time, and I find myself back to getting ready last-minute. Perhaps you (or someone else who maintains this healthy rhythm) could speak, in a future article, to how you get back on track when life events throw off your routine. I would much appreciate it!

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Scott Shimada

October 27, 2015  5:12pm

Wow - this really helps me. I cannot imagine working on several messages at once. I have a hard enough time with one. But the idea of a longer runway helps. I was like Pastor Ken - waiting until Thursday to do "most" of the work. Maybe I felt like the pressure of a deadline would kick in some extra energy and good ideas would flow. But having 10 days (or a few weeks) allows more time to let things sink in and let creative juices flow. I appreciate this article!

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Jay Ewing

October 27, 2015  4:08pm

I too have often felt a great deal of anxiety when preparing sermons. As a pastor, I desperately want to be faithful to the text, while bringing something fresh and relevant to my community of faith, and there are always plenty of distractions. Ken's wise advice here has become a part my own rhythm over the last few years. It has helped me to rest in the process of of digging into the text, and given me time to allow the creativity to flow. I also run my sermons by other pastors before preaching the sermon, and it is always better because of it. I still regularly feel anxiety around the preaching event, but I am much more confident and prepared these days. Thanks for your wisdom Ken!

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Brian Buhler

October 27, 2015  1:55pm

Oh yes, many neurotic nightmares surrounding the upcoming preaching event. I'm either standing in front of the congregation completely nude or I can't find my notes. After 35 years of doing this, the fear of arriving on Sunday with nothing to say still haunts me. I must be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with preaching because of this. I wish I could discipline myself to a longer preparation window. I believe Ken is right on all levels. Though I don't take the time that Ken does to write and preach a sermon, I've found a rhythm that works for me. Monday and Wednesday are full study days where I see no people or plan no meetings. I don't go into the church! I begin on Monday morning with hermeneutical prep and move to homiletical. By Wednesday afternoon, my manuscript is finished. I don't pick it up until Saturday. The rhythm of study/people/study/people/SABBATH (Friday)/rehearsal/PREACH has worked well for me.

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Jade Holownia

October 27, 2015  12:57pm

Very helpful counsel here. Starting early has definitely helped to take the pressure off sermon prep. Submitting a two paragraph summary to worship leader 10 days in advance seems to get the ball rolling for me. Letting it ruminate brings more creativity to the process. This morning during a run, I got a good (I think) sermon illustration for this Sunday. I work on the draft, present it to my colleagues for "feedforward" on Wednesday, then make some edits to it Thursday. On Friday, I take a sabbath and try not to think about it at all. Then Saturday, I go to the church and practice it a few times. Usually small transition edits happen at that point. It's worth noting that I often feel the sermon is ok, but not great throughout the process. It's only sometimes on Saturday, as I hear myself preach it that I begin to feel more confident that it has value and will be helpful to others.

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Sam Rima

October 27, 2015  12:37pm

This is an excellent article by a gifted practitioner. Like Ken, I too suffered from hyper anxiety related to preaching when I was preparing sermons the week I needed to preach them. However, having served on staff with Ken for the past four years (I am now once again serving in a lead pastor role in Seattle) I was amazed by his sermon prep rhythms. Largely, due to his influence, I am now following a similar rhythm. For example, I have my sermons for the next two weeks complete and am this week working on my first sermon for the Advent series. I have also instituted a "Feed Forward" here at our church, again something I learned from Ken, where I run through my sermon with a few staff members and hand-picked people from our congregation representing a broad demographic and am finding it immensely helpful. Every week I make edits based on their feed forward! I can affirm that my preaching experience has changed for the better and I am enjoying preaching as never before!

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Dan DeGroat

October 26, 2015  3:25pm

Anyone so articulate in an article can surely preach with power and clarity. Excellent.

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